Entertainment & Arts

David Schwimmer tackles online predators in Trust

Warning: The following story contains spoilers

Liana Liberato in Trust
Image caption Liana Liberato stars as a 14-year-old girl who is groomed by an online predator

When you think of David Schwimmer, you can't help but think of 'Ross, from Friends', or maybe 'Melman, the hypochondriac giraffe, from Madagascar'.

But since the hit sitcom ended in 2004, the actor has focused much of his energies on directing, making his feature debut with the Simon Pegg comedy Run, Fat Boy, Run and taking the helm in TV comedies such as Little Britain USA and Joey.

His latest project, however, marks a definite departure from comedy: a hard-hitting drama about the dangers of online predators.

Trust tells the story of 14-year-old Annie Cameron, played by newcomer Liana Liberato, who is groomed online by a man posing as a 16-year-old boy.

Image caption Clive Owen and Catherine Keener play Liberato's on-screen parents

Having agreed to meet her new online 'friend', the film follows the attempts of Annie and her parents - played by Clive Owen and Catherine Keener - to come to terms with Annie's subsequent rape.

It was a personal project for Schwimmer, who developed the film over seven years, inspired by child victims he met through his work as an active director of the Rape Treatment Centre in Santa Monica, California.

In a bid to raise awareness of the issue, Schwimmer decided to make a fictional film tackling the subject.

To help with authenticity, the star enlisted FBI agents and rape treatment councillors to help with the development of the script.

Ratings battle

"If you have great actors, often a feature film can move people in a way that a documentary can't," says Schwimmer, explaining his decision to make a feature film over a documentary.

"You go on a much more meaningful and emotional relationship with these people as an audience, after investing an hour and 45 minutes in this family."

Nonetheless, despite his best intentions, the director struggled with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) over the rating of the film in the US.

Originally rated R - which prevents those under 17 from seeing the movie without being accompanied by a parent or guardian - Schwimmer appealed the decision, asking for it to be downgraded.

The director argued it should have a lower PG-13 rating, broadening it out to reach those teenagers at whom the movie is targeted.

But the board upheld its decision, saying the film featured "disturbing material involving the rape of a teen, language, sexual content and some violence".

"I was frustrated by our system, which I feel is antiquated and unnecessarily puritanical and hypocritical," Schwimmer says.

"This film got the rating it did because of some profanity, and because we used the word 'Jesus' more than once. There's no word that kids who are 13, 14 or 15 haven't heard before.

"I think it's comical - if it weren't so upsetting - that they can't see this film, where there is no violence or nudity. But because there is some bad language, they're banned from seeing it unless they come with a parent."

'Completely safe'

In the UK the film has been rated 15, and although it is still disappointing to Schwimmer, he is glad at least that 15 year olds can see it on their own.

The director was particularly careful over how he depicted the "disturbing material" which the MPAA later objected to.

Image caption Schwimmer deliberately cast a 14-year-old in the role, rather than an older actress

Although nothing is explicitly seen, Schwimmer believes the implied act and suggestion is powerful enough for the audience to imagine their own version of events.

And the casting of 14-year-old Liberato in the role, rather than having an older actress play younger, adds to the impact.

"I knew it wasn't going to be gratuitous... so I was careful and concerned about how [Liberato] was and how we'd do it in a way in which she felt completely safe and comfortable," he says.

Schwimmer also wanted to illustrate how, in a number of cases, predators are never caught, so he opted out of a Hollywood-style happy ending.

The film sees Owen's character struggling to deal with his desire for revenge and his fruitless effort to find his daughter's attacker.

Ultimate goal

"I really commend Clive Owen for signing on," says Schwimmer. "He knew from the beginning it wasn't a Hollywood ending and the guy wasn't going to get caught.

"I'm grateful because the film needed an actor with the persona he has, which is: 'he's the guy that's gonna get the guy'. It played really well into the whole point of the film which was that even this guy doesn't get the guy."

Although there is different cut of the film - without profanity - that will air on television, Schwimmer's ultimate goal is to get the film into schools, so teenagers can see it.

Image caption The film sees Clive Owen's character struggle to come to terms with his daughter's attack

Schwimmer says reaction from parents has been positive to the film.

"Many people wanted to come back and see the film again and bring their kids, as a springboard to having a discussion about this subject, " he says.

Schwimmer himself has just become a father for the first time - to a daughter, Cleo.

"You want to do everything to protect your kids and you feel responsible for their well-being," he says.

But as far as dangers she may face in the future are concerned, he adds, "I'm just going to worry about it when the time comes".

In the meantime, he hopes "to raise a daughter who has great confidence in herself".

Trust opens in cinemas on 8 July.

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